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6 Tent Cities Making a Difference

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BY ADAM K. RAYMOND

Maybe you've heard—the economy is in trouble. That typically means people are losing their jobs. Which comes right before people lose their homes. When those people don't have a spacious car to move into or a generous aunt to crash with, their only option might be to move in to the inhospitable accommodations known as tent cities.

Believe it or not, this recession has seen a surge in tent cities. While the numbers don't match up anywhere close to the days of Hoovervilles or even Reagan's tent cities, almost 61 percent of the country's homeless groups have seen a rise in homelessness since the housing crisis began in 2007, according to a report by the National Coalition for the Homeless. Here are just a few of the stories we've been keeping tabs on.

1. The Most Civilized Tent City in the World (Seattle, WA)

While most modern tent cities seem content to call themselves Tent City, the homeless in Seattle have honored Mayor Greg Nickels by naming their newest encampment Nickelsville. Located in a church parking lot, the city sprang up in late September and quickly evolved from a lawless encampment into a modern mini-city. Residents have established rules (no smoking, drugs or visitors between 9 pm and 7 am) and set up an arbitration council to mediate disputes. Despite its organization, Nickelsville and its 90-plus members haven't quite endeared themselves to city leaders who have demanded that it merge with another encampment (so there will only be one set of tented shelters within city limits). Some have also claimed that Nickelsvillians aren't actually homeless, but protestors with homes. Nick Hoffener, a 28-year-old Iraq War vet and Nickelsville resident, disagrees. "The mayor says everybody here has a home to go to; I don't understand it. I've slept on the doorsteps of churches and under bridges. I've slept in a lot of places. Here you don't have to worry about people coming to kill you."

2. The Tent City That's Becoming an Eye Sore (Athens, GA)

The Tent City in East Athens is growing so rapidly that earlier this year police had to ask its residents to move back into the woods and away from a road where passers-by could see them. Sitting on a plot of private land, the Athens encampment is over a decade and a half old according to "Radar," a 39-year-old resident who wasn't happy about  being asked to move. "Tent City has been here for 17 years, and all of a sudden we're in everyone's sight?" The number of residents in Athens' Tent City has fluctuated between the mid-single digits to as many as 30. A few months ago, a visitor found about eight people living there, one of whom voted.

3. The City that Offers Job Placement

a.hope.pngIn January 2007, city officials raided a tent city near downtown St. Petersburg, slashing tents and attracting criticism. Not long after, an outdoor tent city called Pinellas Hope sprang up nearby, providing a place for many of the displaced to live. Today, run by Catholic Charities, Pinellas Hope is a thriving outdoor community for hundreds of homeless. Unlike the makeshift encampments scattered throughout the country, Pinellas Hope has millions of dollars in funding and requires residents to perform daily chores and meet regularly with caseworkers. The program seems to be working.

Around 371 residents moved out in the camp's first five months and most found jobs and moved into their own homes.

The facility has inspired officials in nearby Pasco and Hillsborough counties to discuss setting up similar tent cities.

4. The City That Casino Layoffs Built (Reno, NV)

Reno's Tent City popped up around railroad tracks in the northern part of the city earlier this year when homeless shelters began overflowing. It didn't last long. City officials opened two new shelters last month and evicted the 160 Tent City residents. Why so many homeless in the Biggest Little City in the world? Blame the casinos. Out of a dozen people living in the Tent City interviewed by the Las Vegas Review Journal in October, six had come from out of state to find jobs at casinos, which have begun laying people off. The Reno Area Alliance for the Homeless estimates that 3,000 people around Reno are living in a temporary situation, which includes motels, shelters and the street.

5.The City where Homeless Pay Water Bills

a.dignity.pngWith a village council and elected officials, Portland's Dignity Village is like a city unto itself. And unlike many other tent cities, it's legal. Dignity Village won that distinction in 2004 when, after a four year campaign, the tent city was officially recognized as a campground. That designation meant that it was no longer violated city zoning laws. In 2007 Dignity Village, which is home to 60 people, entered into a management contract with the city that expanded the land it sits on and made it so residents have to pay for their own water and sewer service. It was the latest upgrade to the encampment that has evolved from tents on asphalt to walled structures built from two-by-fours and sheetrock.

6. For Homeless, By Homeless

Down by Ventura Harbor there's a modest tent city run by homeless people for homeless people. Residents pay rent, follow a list of posted rules and perform chores. Rule breakers are evicted. The camp makes it a goal to move residents into conventional housing; so far, two dozen people have done so. Ventura Harbor is seen as a temporary space, providing homes for the homeless until the county provides 500 beds of supportive housing by 2012. The group living in and running Ventura Harbor, known as the "Dirty Thirty," was forced to relocate from the river bottoms in December 2004 and moved around 30 times. Some in government oppose the encampment while others say it's the best option for the homeless. "It works, and the residents deserve a huge amount of the credit," said Clyde Reynolds, director of the nonprofit Turning Point Foundation and a camp founder.

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10 Memorable Neil deGrasse Tyson Quotes
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Neil deGrasse Tyson is America's preeminent badass astrophysicist. He's a passionate advocate for science, NASA, and education. He's also well-known for a little incident involving Pluto. And the man holds nearly 20 honorary doctorates (in addition to his real one). In honor of his 59th birthday, here are 10 of our favorite Neil deGrasse Tyson quotes.

1. ON SCIENCE

"The good thing about science is that it's true whether or not you believe in it."
—From Real Time with Bill Maher.

2. ON NASA FUNDING

"As a fraction of your tax dollar today, what is the total cost of all spaceborne telescopes, planetary probes, the rovers on Mars, the International Space Station, the space shuttle, telescopes yet to orbit, and missions yet to fly?' Answer: one-half of one percent of each tax dollar. Half a penny. I’d prefer it were more: perhaps two cents on the dollar. Even during the storied Apollo era, peak NASA spending amounted to little more than four cents on the tax dollar." 
—From Space Chronicles

3. ON GOD AND HURRICANES

"Once upon a time, people identified the god Neptune as the source of storms at sea. Today we call these storms hurricanes ... The only people who still call hurricanes acts of God are the people who write insurance forms."
—From Death by Black Hole

4. ON THE BENEFITS OF TECHNOLOGY INVENTED FOR USE IN SPACE

"Countless women are alive today because of ideas stimulated by a design flaw in the Hubble Space Telescope." (Editor's note: technology used to repair the Hubble Space Telescope's optical problems led to improved technology for breast cancer detection.)
—From Space Chronicles

5. ON THE DEMOTION OF PLUTO FROM PLANET STATUS 

PBS

"I knew Pluto was popular among elementary schoolkids, but I had no idea they would mobilize into a 'Save Pluto' campaign. I now have a drawer full of hate letters from hundreds of elementary schoolchildren (with supportive cover letters from their science teachers) pleading with me to reverse my stance on Pluto. The file includes a photograph of the entire third grade of a school posing on their front steps and holding up a banner proclaiming, 'Dr. Tyson—Pluto is a Planet!'"
—From The Sky Is Not the Limit

6. ON JAMES CAMERON'S TITANIC

"In [Titanic], the stars above the ship bear no correspondence to any constellations in a real sky. Worse yet, while the heroine bobs ... we are treated to her view of this Hollywood sky—one where the stars on the right half of the scene trace the mirror image of the stars in the left half. How lazy can you get?"
—From Death by Black Hole

7. ON DEATH BY ASTEROID

"On Friday the 13th, April 2029, an asteroid large enough to fill the Rose Bowl as though it were an egg cup will fly so close to Earth that it will dip below the altitude of our communication satellites. We did not name this asteroid Bambi. Instead, we named it Apophis, after the Egyptian god of darkness and death."
—From Space Chronicles

8. ON THE MOTIVATIONS BEHIND AMERICA'S MOONSHOT

"[L]et us not fool ourselves into thinking we went to the Moon because we are pioneers, or discoverers, or adventurers. We went to the Moon because it was the militaristically expedient thing to do."
—From The Sky Is Not the Limit

9. ON INTELLIGENT LIFE (OR THE LACK THEREOF)

Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life.
Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/n/neildegras615117.html
Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life.
Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/n/neildegras615117.html

"Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life."

10. PRACTICAL ADVICE IN THE EVENT OF ALIEN CONTACT 

A still from Steven Spielberg's E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
Universal Studios
"[I]f an alien lands on your front lawn and extends an appendage as a gesture of greeting, before you get friendly, toss it an eightball. If the appendage explodes, then the alien was probably made of antimatter. If not, then you can proceed to take it to your leader."
—From Death by Black Hole
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40 Fun Facts About Sesame Street
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Now in its 47th season, Sesame Street is one of television's most iconic programs—and it's not just for kids. We're big fans of the Street, and to prove it, here are some of our favorite Sesame facts from previous stories and our Amazing Fact Generator.

Sesame Workshop

1. Oscar the Grouch used to be orange. Jim Henson decided to make him green before season two.

2. How did Oscar explain the color change? He said he went on vacation to the very damp Swamp Mushy Muddy and turned green overnight.

3. During a 2004 episode, Cookie Monster said that before he started eating cookies, his name was Sid.

4. In 1980, C-3PO and R2-D2 visited Sesame Street. They played games, sang songs, and R2-D2 fell in love with a fire hydrant.

5. Mr. Snuffleupagus has a first name—Aloysius

6. Ralph Nader stopped by in 1988 and sang "a consumer advocate is a person in your neighborhood."

7. Caroll Spinney said he based Oscar's voice on a cab driver from the Bronx who brought him to the audition.

8. In 1970, Ernie reached #16 on the Billboard Hot 100 with the timeless hit "Rubber Duckie."

9. One of Count von Count's lady friends is Countess von Backwards, who's also obsessed with counting but likes to do it backwards.

10. Sesame Street made its Afghanistan debut in 2011 with Baghch-e-Simsim (Sesame Garden). Big Bird, Grover and Elmo are involved.

11. According to Muppet Wiki, Oscar the Grouch and Count von Count were minimized on Baghch-e-Simsim "due to cultural taboos against trash and vampirism."

12. Before Giancarlo Esposito was Breaking Bad's super intense Gus Fring, he played Big Bird's camp counselor Mickey in 1982.

13. Thankfully, those episodes are available on YouTube.

14. How big is Big Bird? 8'2". (Pictured with First Lady Pat Nixon.)

15. In 2002, the South African version (Takalani Sesame) added an HIV-positive Muppet named Kami.

16. Six Republicans on the House Commerce Committee wrote a letter to PBS president Pat Mitchell warning that Kami was not appropriate for American children, and reminded Mitchell that their committee controlled PBS' funding.

17. Sesame Street's resident game show host Guy Smiley was using a pseudonym. His real name was Bernie Liederkrantz.

18. Bert and Ernie have been getting questioned about their sexuality for years. Ernie himself, as performed by Steve Whitmere, has weighed in: “All that stuff about me and Bert? It’s not true. We’re both very happy, but we’re not gay,”

19. A few years later, Bert (as performed by Eric Jacobson) answered the same question by saying, “No, no. In fact, sometimes we are not even friends; he can be a pain in the neck.”

20. In the first season, both Superman and Batman appeared in short cartoons produced by Filmation. In one clip, Batman told Bert and Ernie to stop arguing and take turns choosing what’s on TV.

21. In another segment, Superman battled a giant chimp.

22. Telly was originally "Television Monster," a TV-obsessed Muppet whose eyes whirled around as he watched.

23. According to Sesame Workshop, Elmo is the only non-human to testify before Congress.

24. He lobbied for more funding for music education, so that "when Elmo goes to school, there will be the instruments to play."

25. In the early 1990s, soon after Jim Henson’s passing, a rumor circulated that Ernie would be killed off in order to teach children about death, as they'd done with Mr. Hooper.

26. According to Snopes, the rumor may have spread thanks to New Hampshire college student, Michael Tabor, who convinced his graduating class to wear “Save Ernie” beanies and sign a petition to persuade Sesame Workshop to let Ernie live.

27. By the time Tabor was corrected, the newspapers had already picked up the story.

28. Sesame Street’s Executive Producer Carol-Lynn Parente joined Sesame Workshop as a production assistant and has worked her way to the top.

29. Originally, Count von Count was more sinister. He could hypnotize and stun people.

30. According to Sesame Workshop, all Sesame Street's main Muppets have four fingers except Cookie Monster, who has five.

31. The episode with Mr. Hooper's funeral aired on Thanksgiving Day in 1983. That date was chosen because families were more likely to be together at that time, in case kids had questions or needed emotional support.

32. Mr. Hooper’s first name was Harold.

33. Big Bird sang "Bein' Green" at Jim Henson's memorial service.

34. As Chris Higgins put it, the performance was "devastating."

35. Oscar's Israeli counterpart is Moishe Oofnik, whose last name means “grouch” in Hebrew.

36. Nigeria's version of Cookie Monster eats yams. His catchphrase: "ME WANT YAM!"

37. Sesame's Roosevelt Franklin ran a school, where he spoke in scat and taught about Africa. Some parents hated him, so in 1975 he got the boot, only to inspire Gob Bluth’s racist puppet Franklin on Arrested Development 28 years later.

38. Our good friend and contributor Eddie Deezen was the voice of Donnie Dodo in the 1985 classic Follow That Bird.

39. Cookie Monster evolved from The Wheel-Stealer—a snack-pilfering puppet Jim Henson created to promote Wheels, Crowns and Flutes in the 1960s.

40. This puppet later was seen eating a computer in an IBM training film and on The Ed Sullivan Show.

Thanks to Stacy Conradt, Joe Hennes, Drew Toal, and Chris Higgins for their previous Sesame coverage!

An earlier version of this article appeared in 2012.

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